gabi's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Walker and Kupperman Versus The Asteroid: Liveblogging Gets Surreal

Michael Kupperman, author of Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010, is a writer of what Ethan likes to call "civic fiction." For more portrayls of civic fiction, Ethan is a fan of Benjamen Walker, who hosts Too Much Information on WFMU. It's one of the more unusual shows you will ever listen to on the Internet. It's hard to figure out, according to Ethan, if it's an interview, a serious news piece, or storytelling that blurs the lines of reality.

la foto 1

Pre-Occupied With Occupation: Habermas, Prefigurative Politics, Effective Protest Center

This past May I presented a thesis abstract proposal to the review board of the Dynamic Media Institute at MassArt that focused on how dynamic media may elevate the level of public discourse in our country. My feeling at the time was that the media’s penchant for polarized debates, combined with social media’s weak-tied, high-speed nature left us without the means for substantive, civil debate—political or otherwise. How serendipitous, then, the fact that a public protest movement, centered around political and economic discourse, popped up just as I was gaining a stronger understanding of the theories behind civic participation via Intro to Civic Media.

Responsibilities of Civic Media

In reviewing my original principles of civic media, I don’t see too many opportunities to revise. I admitted in September that the view was a bit simplistic and boring, and I stand by that assertion today. After the voluminous amount of reading we’ve done this semester, however, I do feel the need to attach an addendum. Civic media makers are extremely powerful in their ability to influence and change. As such, I propose the following responsibilities which they should take into consideration while doing so:

Be inclusive with your medium

Consensus Among Occupy: Project Update

[The following is the beginning of my introduction and a proposed, annotated outline for my project to date]

On September 30th, I went down to Dewey Square to observe the first meeting of Occupy Boston in what would, at that time, become their new home. I spoke with a university professor, Leanne, and asked her why she was doing among the 100 or so other individuals in the square that evening. She spoke of starting a conversation—one that would lead to possible constitutional amendments on campaign finance or congressional limits. As she told me this, however, she always made a point to emphasize that the opinions she was expressing were her own. When I asked her what she had seen in the group that stood out to her, she immediately noted that she was “amazed about is how well organized it is. And you think that consensus is going to be really disjointed, and everyone is going to be screaming at each other. And it hasn’t been like that at all. It’s just been discussion and consensus and debate and no yelling and no name calling.”

Anonymity's Role In Activism

[I wasn’t able to spend time on IRC this week, as by the time I gained access to the Etherpad to see the assignment, I was at my office. Ironically, almost half of the links from the articles were blocked; gaining access to IRC from my current client’s office is laughable at this point.]

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the role of anonymity in discourse and consensus lately: anonymity as an enabler, anonymity as a deterrent. At his SXSW keynote last year, 4chan founder Christopher Poole referred to Mark Zuckerberg’s assertion that anonymity online could be equated to cowardice. Poole wholly disagreed with the statement, noting that anonymity “lets you create without the fear of mistakes.”

From the Barricades to the New Normal, or, from Indymedia to the Age of Citizen Journalism

I begin this class discussion review post with an admission: I really disliked being the scribe. Often trying to keep up, I found the collaborative electronic note taking to be quite distracting—a strong contrast to my preferred method of pencil and paper. Perhaps it was made slightly more difficult, however, by the fact that this particular class session was packed thickly with background, lecture, and perspective; Sasha's experience as a participant in the Global Justice Movement and IndyMedia provided significant insight and context.

From Small To Big And In Between

This week’s readings were particularly relevant to my project research, so it was exciting to read these having just returned from the [extremely chilly pre-snow] OccupyBoston site. I only got two interviews in before I had to head out (I’ll be returning for more soon), but I think I gained some important insight into the relationship between the “I” and the “We” at Occupy. Mostly, though, the interviews I conducted at Dewey Square got me thinking about the role professionalism and locality play in the success of an anti-establishment movement, and also what a move from fringe to mainstream does to that movement.

When I asked Alex, a member of the OccupyBoston media team, why consensus was necessary, he noted that it was a public-relations problem: no one would listen to the movement if every member had something different to say. He made sure to point out that reaching consensus, however, was “a total cluster-fuck…a serious pain.” I bet it is.

Building Consensus Among Individuals in the Social Media Age (working title)

I'm going to explore the discrepancies between individual expression and group consensus, particularly within the Occupy movement. I will use OccupyBoston as a case study, as I have the easiest access to that group. Through research of previous Occupy publications, interviews with individuals participating in consensus process (for instance, General Assembly), interviews with those associated with but not necessarily part of Occupy (unions, for example), and mining of data produced by participants via social media channels, I hope to gain a better understanding of how an individual's opinion is translated into that of a larger group.

In order to avoid taking on a project that goes well beyond a manageable scope, I will restrict my research to three areas:

Civic Media Project Proposals

Minorities in Media: A data visualization of data from ASNE, CPB Diversity Reports, economic census data (SBA, et al), and the RTNDA. The bulk of the project will most likely include tracking down and scraping the data into a computer-readable format. From there, I would probably use Processing or OpenFrameworks to create an interactive visualization which would allow users to grasp the severe culture gap between white male and minority participation and ownership in mass media.

The Discourse of the Occupy Movement: Using the various Occupy movements' Twitter feeds, I'd like to analyze the nature of their rhetoric as well as the way in which those writing about them or to them (via @mentions and @replies, respectively) are framing the movement. Are the majority of words considered "positive" or "negative"? Is Occupy answering questions from the peanut gallery? How are media outlets referring to the movement? Politicians? Cultural workers (musicians, artists)? In order to keep the scope to a reasonable size, I may only focus on OccupyBoston. I will also need to do some work to find a service to categorize words and phrases by tone.